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The Darling Buds of May: May Welland

[Editor's Note: In the interest of keeping things fresh, we aren't doing the traditional "May Flowers" series this year but this spin-off miniseries, spearheaded by abstew though I'll also be chiming in, featuring characters named that way. - Nathaniel.]

Full Name: May Welland Archer 

Film She Starred In: The Age of Innocence (1993) Martin Scorsese's adaption of Edith Wharton's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel (1920). 

Played By: Winona Ryder (real last name: Horowitz). Already a well-regarded and popular actress having previously worked with directors Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola, the then 21-year-old was Scorsese's first choice for the role.

Time and Location: The film takes place in the preferred setting of Scorsese, New York City. Although the drawing rooms and Opera houses of a 1870s Manhattan were a bit of a departure. May and her family also spend their summers in St. Augustine and when she and Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) marry, they Honeymoon in London and Paris (where she has her clothes made and a sculpture modeled of her hands).

First Appearance in the Film: May first appears at the 4 minute mark when professional snoop/gossip Larry Lefferts (Richard E. Grant) spies her controversial cousin Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) entering the Welland's Opera box. More...

A minute later, we get a better introduction as Newland makes his way to join her in the Welland's box, saying her name as he greets her.

Hobbies: Oh, a lady's only hobbies are that of being a good wife to her husband and doing everything proper in high society. But if you insist, she's also an accomplished archer (how fitting considering her married name) even winning at the Newport Archery Club. She also enjoys needlepoint, attending the theatre and opera, throwing dinner parties, and manipulating her husband in a passive/aggressive manner. Oh, did I just say that aloud!

Favorite Flower: Lilies-of-the-Valley. They arrive every morning courtesy of Newland. They are as chaste and innocent as May herself. Unlike those common yellow roses...


 Newland: That was two weeks ago, wasn't it? I thought you just said you weren't sure til today?

May: I wasn't sure then, but I told her I was. And you see? I was right.

Awards Traction: For her portrayal of May, Ryder was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award (historically losing to Anna Paquin in The Piano). She won the Best Supporting Actress award from the Golden Globes, National Board of Review, and Southeastern Film Critics Association. And nominations from BAFTA and Chicago 

More About This May Flower: Scorsese has said that this is the most violent film he's ever made as all the violence takes place behind smiling facades of quiet backstabbing and scheming. And no character exemplifies this more than May Welland and Ryder's masterful performance. Seemingly doe-eyed and uninterested ("Oh, never mind. It sounds too complicated."), she cunningly strikes when it will have the biggest impact. All the while maintaining her girlish charm and composure. Always looking out for her own self-interest, she gently, yet forcibly, guides Newland to do what is "right" despite what she knows to be his true feelings, silently striking his heart as easily as a target with her arrows.


"all the way mae" 

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Reader Comments (9)

there is a small part of me that thinks i should probs watch this again since almost everyone i know likes it more than i do. I remember how heart-stabby May revealing her hand was (ouch) and Michelle reading letters to the screen but that's about it!

May 19, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Oh, my, that year was outstanding.

And this film is cinema at its height. The production is superb; the directing is classic and inovative, at the same time; the acting is perfect (Day-Lewis, Pfeiffer and Ryder, and all the other actors), Woodward narrating it as an Edith Wharton commenting on the social rules and personal (almost) transgressions; cinematography (Pfeiffer on the beach is a classic); score (master work); production design and costumes...

In the same year of Schindler's List and Short Cuts.

May 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarcelo - Brazil

This is the best movie I've ever seen in my life. A true gem.
yes, Nathaniel, you should watch it again

May 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterferdi

This and Casino are my favorite Scorsese movies. So unexpected that he tackled this story and pulled it off really well.

May 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

It's a real great watch Nat 20 years later and knowing lots more about life and relationships,i did not get her in it in 94 but now I truly get her.

May 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

How funny, I'm reading (well, listening to an audiobook of) The Age of Innocence! I'm also done with it and will probably give this film a go this summer. I'm a bit cooler on Scorsese than most people are,but this film is more up my alley, I should enjoy, I think.

May 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel

nathaniel - you should definitely visit again. it's one of my favorites.

i was so eager to see it when it came out as kid, but the trailer was so lusty i thought for sure it would be rated R. i still remember the blank looks on my friends' faces when i expressed my enthusiastic joy that it was only PG and i would get to see 2 of my favorite actresses in a period piece together!

gabriel - the book is so good! i know a lot of people have problems with the word-for-word narration lifted from the novel in the movie, but it's kinda hard to imagine it without joanne woodward giving us more insight into the customs and mores of that period.

May 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

We all know that Nathaniel does not like narration AT ALL.

But... Woodward as some kind of Edith Wharton's voice telling us about the time and relations - Woodward does amazing work - is a delight.

Please, Nathaniel, reconsider narration in something so precious like this.

May 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMarcelo - Brazil

abstew - If it's narrated like Goodfellas was... then I'm going to have a problem with this film. Its Goodfellas' biggest flaw IMO.

May 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGabriel

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